Rock N' Roll: A Reflection of American Term Paper

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Rock n' Roll: A Reflection of American Culture

Music and art are products of the society from which they evolved. History tells us about events that happened in a certain time, but the events themselves do no tell the whole story. Behind these events are thoughts and feelings. Music and art tell us about the passions that drove the events that shaped historical events. Music is one of the oldest mediums of expression available to human beings (Cross, 2001). According to Cross, music and language developed simultaneously in our evolutionary past. We can learn much about a culture through the study of their music (Blacking, 1995).

In America, the 1940s were turbulent times. The 1950s reflected a return to normalcy. Society needed a break from the chaos of war and they constructed a society full of rigid rules about how one should live their life, dress, keep their house and present themselves. Children born during this time period had a childhood full of rigid rules and the media portrayed a life of rigid rules and standards, this can be seen in shows such as "Leave it to Beaver," and later, "The Brady Bunch." These shows "told" people how they should try to model their lives.

The advent of Rock n' Roll represented a crying out of the youth. The children of the 1950s were the teenagers and young adults of the 1960s. Low and behold, America became embroiled in another war, but this war was different than the war of their parents, it seemed to have no purpose. World War II was popular and everyone saw the need for it. Vietnam was not popular and this was evident in the war protest songs of the youth of the time. This research will explore through example exactly what these songs tell us about the important issues of the time about racial injustice, poverty, and the Vietnam War.

Songs of the 1960s reveal the development of a sub-culture. Mainstream society sought to maintain the June Cleaver-like normalcy. Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the draft board and an emerging drug culture, this evolved into two combatant worlds existing simultaneously.
The drug culture was a blatant rebellion against the ideals and institutions that had created the current situation. The day-to-day, work a day world, was a stark contrast to the carefree freedom of the emerging drug culture and "free-love" society.

1960s music was filled with tension, both lyrically and musically. The experience of psychedelic drugs was mirrored in the music of Jimmy Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead (CEE, 2002, online). The Vietnam War created a source of tension and the youth tried to escape this tension through drugs. The music became known as "acid rock" or "hard rock." It attempted to create the surreal sense that one gets on drugs. It tried to produce the needed escape from the real world. The Rock Operas such as "Tommy" and "Hair" told the story in its entirety.

While the psychedelic drug songs attempted to provide an escape, some folk artists took a more direct route to expressing their feelings. Scores of youth pleaded in mass unison at a November 15, 1969 war protest using John Lennon's famous anthem, "all we are give peace chance." Jim Lenahan of the Lousiville Courier Journal wrote, "Learning about the rise of Elvis Presley encompasses such topics as race relations, economics and politics. By the 1960s, rock music became a force of change, a call to action"(in Lenahan, 2001).

The cultural division is explained most effectively by the Five Man Electrical Band in the song "Signs"

And the sign said "Long-haired freaky people need not apply"

So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why

He said "You look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you'll do"

So I took off my hat, I said "Imagine that. Huh! Me workin' for you!"


Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind

Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?" (Th Five Man Electrical Band, 1969.)

It was the establishment that had created the Vietnam War and the establishment that was responsible for sending thousands of young men to die before their time. Therefore, it was the.....

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